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Nicotine Salts: What They Are, Pros and Cons

March 15, 2020 6 min read

If you vaped in 2019, you heard about nicotine salts constantly. Nicotine salt e-liquid was a trend that began with pre-filled pod systems like the JUUL in 2015, and within a few years, the most popular companies in the industry – brands like Beard Vape, Dinner Lady and Naked 100 – were all making bottled nicotine salt e-liquids for refillable pod systems. If you use a pod system, you’re already familiar with nicotine salt e-liquid. If you use a mod, though, you’re probably wondering whether pod systems are really deserving of all the hype they’ve received. Either way, you’re in the right place if you want to know about the pros and cons of nicotine salts. In this primer, we’re going to explain what nicotine salt vape juice is and help you decide whether it might be the right e-liquid for you.

Nicotine Salts Pros Cons

What Are Nicotine Salts?

To help you better understand what nicotine salt e-liquid is, we’re going to tell you about the journey that nicotine takes from the tobacco leaf to the point where it becomes a finished product like e-liquid. As it exists in the tobacco leaf, nicotine is a salt. In the process of extracting nicotine from tobacco, though, a solvent is used to improve yields. The most common solvent used in the extraction of nicotine is ammonia, which frees the nicotine molecule from the salt and changes it into a free base. The concentrated nicotine that’s used for vape juice and nicotine replacement products like gums and patches is freebase nicotine.

Creating nicotine salt e-liquid is as simple as adding a weak acid – benzoic acid is a popular e-liquid additive – to a standard freebase nicotine e-liquid. The acid alters the molecular composition of the nicotine, and nicotine salt vape juice is the result.

You might be familiar with the concept of freebase substances. A freebase compound is more volatile than a salt and is thus more readily vaporized and more easily absorbed by the body. With that in mind, what are the benefits of nicotine salts? Before we discuss that, let’s learn a bit more about the origin of freebase nicotine.

The History of Freebase Nicotine

Ammonia reacts with the tobacco leaf – and with nicotine – in interesting ways. Companies such as Philip Morris experimented extensively in the past with the use of ammonia in the processing of tobacco. They found, for example, that ammonia is an effective catalyst in the process of creating reconstituted tobacco from ribs and stems. Ammonia also makes reconstituted tobacco more “fluffy,” reducing the amount of tobacco necessary to fill a cigarette tube.

Philip Morris’s most important discovery, though, was the fact that ammonia converts salt-based nicotine to a free base. Increasing the volatility of the nicotine made it possible for Philip Morris to create low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes that were more satisfying to smoke than competitors’ products. Today, ammonia is an extremely common agent in the processing of tobacco. By the time the other tobacco companies figured out what Philip Morris was doing, though, Marlboro was already the top cigarette brand by a wide margin. Marlboro remains the world’s most popular cigarette today.

So, we know that freebase nicotine is more volatile and more readily taken up by the body than nicotine salt. We know that freebase nicotine makes a cigarette more satisfying; that’s why cigarette companies use ammoniated tobacco. Why, then, has nicotine salt e-liquid made such a splash? Let’s learn about the benefits of nicotine salts.

Nicotine Salts Reduce Throat Irritation in High-Nicotine E-Liquids

When you’ve read about nicotine salts, you’ve no doubt seen the statement that nicotine salt e-liquid is more satisfying than regular e-liquid. As you’ve just learned, though, freebase nicotine is actually the form of nicotine that’s more bioavailable. Why, then, do nicotine salts get so much positive publicity? The answer is actually incredibly simple.

Nicotine salt e-liquid doesn’t do a better job of controlling nicotine cravings because it contains nicotine salt. It’s more satisfying because it contains more nicotine. You’ll seldom find freebase nicotine e-liquid in strengths higher than about 18 mg, but nicotine salt e-liquid is available in strengths as high as 60 mg.

Why would that be? Couldn’t a company just make a 60 mg freebase nicotine e-liquid and get the best of both worlds?

The reason why higher-strength freebase nicotine e-liquids don’t exist is because nicotine extracted with ammonia has a high pH. The high pH makes the nicotine irritating to the throat. At high strengths, vapers report that freebase nicotine e-liquid is bitter and produces an unpleasant scratchy sensation when inhaled.

Nicotine salts, on the other hand, remain smooth even at high nicotine strengths. When you use a nicotine salt e-liquid, you can enjoy a vaping experience that’s smooth and enjoyable but just as satisfying as smoking a cigarette. The smoothness comes from the acid, which gives the nicotine a more neutral pH.

Nicotine Salts Allow for a Vaping Experience That’s More Discreet and Portable

One of the things you consistently hear from users of bigger mods is that owners of those devices sometimes worry that other people will find the enormous clouds obnoxious. Some people who use large sub-ohm mods use those devices because they want to chase clouds. Others, though, simply started using those devices because the small e-cigarettes that were available in the past weren’t as satisfying as today’s pod systems with nicotine salts.

If you switch from a sub-ohm mod to a pod-based device, you will definitely feel just as satisfied with your vaping experience as you do now. You’ll also have a vaping device that doesn’t create its own weather systems and doesn’t feel like a brick when you carry it in your pocket. If the drawbacks of owning a large mod hamper your ability to fully enjoy your vaping experience, you’ll probably love the switch to nicotine salts.

Nicotine Salts Reduce E-Liquid Usage and Can Lower Your Cost to Vape

Let’s talk about the amount of money that you currently spend on vaping. If you have a powerful sub-ohm device, you might consume 15 ml of e-liquid – or more – each day. A 100 ml bottle of e-liquid may only last you about a week. If you use e-liquid that’s heavily sweetened, your vaping expenses are further inflated by the fact that you need a new coil every day or two due to coil gunk. When you use a large amount of e-liquid, sucralose residue can kill your coils very quickly.

Compare that to the experience of using nicotine salt e-liquid. When you use a low-output vaping device and a higher-nicotine e-liquid, you’ll vape less often because you’ll have a higher concentration of nicotine in your blood. When you do vape, you’ll use less e-liquid. With those two factors combined, you’ll find yourself buying e-liquid much less often than you currently do.

When you use a refillable pod system, you’ll need to replace your pods occasionally just as you currently need to replace your tank’s coil. Even if you use heavily sweetened e-liquid, though, you’ll find that you don’t need those replacements nearly as often if you switch to nicotine salt e-liquid. The more vape juice you use, the more quickly coil gunk forms. Using a lower-output vaping system, therefore, means that the sucralose in your e-liquid won’t kill your coils as quickly.

Nicotine Salts Aren’t for Fans of Big Vapor Clouds

Low-strength nicotine salt e-liquids for sub-ohm vaping devices do exist; One Hit Wonder makes them. For the most part, though, nicotine salt vape juice comes in strengths of 20 mg and higher and is only appropriate for use in devices such as pod systems with very low vapor output. If you use a sub-ohm mod with an e-liquid that has a nicotine strength of 20 mg, you’ll take in way too much nicotine; the most common nicotine strengths for sub-ohm vaping hardware are 3 mg and 6 mg. Deciding whether nicotine salts are right for you, then, is partially about making a choice between faster nicotine absorption and bigger vapor clouds. Nicotine salts aren’t for cloud chasing.

Nicotine Salts Don’t Deliver the Boldest Flavors

If you’re currently using a sub-ohm vaping device, the final thing you need to know about nicotine salt e-liquid is that nicotine itself has a flavor; it tastes slightly peppery. The nicotine strength of an e-liquid refers to the amount of nicotine that’s in the e-liquid relative to all of the other ingredients. An e-liquid with a higher strength contains a higher percentage of nicotine, meaning that you’ll taste the nicotine more strongly when you use that vape juice.

When you use a sub-ohm mod and a low-nicotine e-liquid, you’ll inhale a very large amount of e-liquid with each puff – but only about 0.3-0.6 percent of the e-liquid will be nicotine.

When you use a pod device with nic salts, on the other hand, you’ll inhale a small amount of e-liquid with each puff, and as much as 5 percent of the e-liquid will be nicotine. It stands to reason, then, that if you’re a flavor chaser, you’ll probably be happiest if you use a low-nicotine e-liquid rather than a nicotine salt e-liquid.


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